By Karen Swanson, previous OTL Director of Faculty Learning Groups and Scholarship
One of my favorite authors is Stephen Brookfield who wrote Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (2017). The definition of critical reflections is “the sustained and intentional process of identifying and checking the accuracy and validity of our teaching assumptions” (p. 3). In this book he talks about four lenses that faculty can use to examine their teaching. These four lenses represent different types of processes or input that allow us to reflect on and evaluate our teaching. The lenses are theory, colleagues’ perspectives, personal experiences, and students’ eyes. This blog is going to explore the use of mid-quarter student surveys as a way to gain insight into the students’ eyes lens.
Soliciting student experiences throughout the quarter creates a learner-centered course. This does not mean that students make the decisions or that the rigor of a course is jeopardized. Both Weimer (2013) and Brookfield (2017) suggest creating a syllabus and activities through an informed perspective of who the students are in terms of identity and ability. Secondly, the purpose of employing a critically reflective approach is to make continuous improvement in the course based on student experiences. This semester is an ideal situation to create this feedback opportunity for you and your students.
It is important to focus survey questions on items for which you are willing to consider student input and make adjustments such as assignments, deadlines, building community and communication. The types of questions you ask depends heavily on the subject matter you teach. It is recommended that a midterm survey be brief and open-ended. Here are a few sample questions.
- What part of moving to the online format has made learning (Chemistry, Painting, English, etc.) easier?
- What part of moving to the online format has made learning (Chemistry, Painting, English, etc.) more difficult?
- If you want Dr. X to know one thing about your experience in this class, what would it be?
- If you could change one thing about this class, mid-quarter what would it be?
- What would you like Dr. X to spend more time teaching about or clarifying?
Another common approach to midterm surveys is to ask three simple questions: what would you like me to 1) stop doing, 2) start doing, 3) keep doing? Offices and Centers of Teaching and Learning across the US encourage the use of midterm evaluations and offer a variety of ways to tackle it. See the resources list for links from schools including Brown, Indiana University, and Yale.
Tools for Surveying Students
At DU there are two options for tools for creating and deploying midterm surveys. You can create a simple survey either using the Canvas Quiz tool or Qualtrics, a survey software tool purchased by DU. You can make the survey worth points if you want to offer students credit for completing the survey. You can also make it ungraded and even anonymous if you would like.
The Office of Teaching and Learning curated sample mid-term surveys that you can use within Canvas to receive feedback from your students. All of these sample surveys are worth zero points and are set up so that student respondents are anonymous. You can use Canvas Commons to preview the survey questions then import a survey into your course. Once imported, you will be able to edit the survey settings and questions. Once students have taken the survey, you can view the survey results within Canvas.
The Feedback Cycle
If you choose to engage in a midterm survey, following up with students afterward is a critical step. Closing the survey loop creates a sense that students have been heard. The deadline for the survey should be the day prior to the next class meeting, this will allow you time to read and organize the responses. I suggest you create a PowerPoint with a survey question on each slide. You can cut and paste representative responses under each question. This shows students that you have read their responses and take them seriously. Next, I suggest that any items that may need action, such as changing a due date or providing clarification, be addressed in subsequent slides. It is important as well to let students know if you are unable to accommodate a request and why.
The utility of midterm evaluations has been the subject of empirical study for decades. Literature suggests that when used effectively, they can serve to:
- improve students’ attitudes toward the course or instructor (Keutzer, 1993),
- may enhance student learning (Wickramasinghe & Timpson, 2006),
- and, even improve student evaluations of teaching (Mcgowan & Osguthorpe, 2011).
Allowing students to have input into their academic experience may feel uncomfortable but can pay dividends.
In The Courage to Teach. Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, Parker Palmer explores the premise that, “in every class I teach, my ability to connect with my students, and to connect them with the subject, depends less on the methods I use than on the degree to which I know and trust my selfhood – and am willing to make it available and vulnerable in the service of learning” (2017, p. 10). Your willingness to provide an opportunity for student feedback on the class and address their questions and concerns is creating a positive learning community.
Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. Wiley.
Brookfield, S. D. (website): http://www.stephenbrookfield.com/
Canvas Guide: How Do I Create a Graded Survey in My Course?
Canvas Guide: What Quiz Types Can I Create in a Course?
Keutzer, C. (1993). Midterm evaluation of teaching provides helpful feedback to instructors. Teaching of Psychology, 20(4), 238-240.
McGowan, W. R. , & Osguthorpe, R. T. (2011). Student and faculty perceptions of effects of midcourse evaluations. To Improve the Academy, 29(1), 160-172.
Palmer, P.J. (2017). The courage to teach. Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life (3rd ed.). Wiley.
Warner, J. & Simmons A. (2015). Giving Voice to students: A preliminary analysis of informal mid-term evaluations and procedural justice. Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 19, 71-79.
Weimer, M. (2013). Learner centered teaching. Five to key changes to practice (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.
Wickramasinghe, S. R. & Timpson, W. M. (2006). Mid-semester student feedback enhances student learning, Education for Chemical Engineers, 1(1), 126-133. https://doi.org/10.1205/ece06012